It’s been nearly 35 years since I emerged from medical school, slick and keen in my new role as a medical doctor, in a job as old as history. My recollection is that amidst my idealistic expectations of physician as wise healer, I became mired in the responsibilities and endless duties of residency. “The House of God”, a satirical book by psychiatrist Samuel Shem that was hugely popular amongst medical trainees at the time, suggested that one way to survive the grueling hours and stress of trying to save lives was to dehumanize our patients and resort to gallows humor to cope.
Despite being a genuinely caring person, I believe those years took a toll on me which extends to the present day. My personal journey through residency, marriage, motherhood, loss (of a brother, from brain cancer at the age of 50), and my own albeit relatively minor illnesses, forced me to re-examine how physicians best apply their skills and how patients – that is, ourselves – deal with suffering, pain, illness and even loss. Illness, we should remember, is a loss of sorts: a loss of good health and feeling well.
My foray into how we heal was spurred by three recent events. One was my personal experience with several minor but irritating and partly chronic medical issues, in which I had to deal with pain, procedural complications, and recurring conditions that began to consume my thoughts. Issues of “anxiety” arose and I began to look at the science of how anxiety, depression, and our thoughts in general, affect our well-being and ability to heal.
The second was a serendipitous introduction to a social experiment called “the empathy effect”. I bought the pin on a whim and then looked up the social trend online. That led me to look further into a book of the same name by Dr. Helen Riess, and thus piqued my curiosity about a recent hot topic in both the medical and lay press. http://empathetics.com/the-empathy-effect/.
Thirdly, my involvement over the past few years in medical education caused me to become more thoughtful about how I organized lectures (throw out the Powerpoint?), my teaching style, and how I could be a better role model for my students. Specifically, I recently mentored a small group interested in how we can improve patient communication; we looked initially at unique methods such as medical clowning but soon realized that every successful doctor-patient interaction seemed to hinge on the same four pillars of meaningful and effective communication, which spawned our group’s acronym – CURE: “C” for Compassion, U for Understanding, R for Respect, and E for Empathy.
CURE seems like a good place to start this blog – a forum for learning and sharing – not just about and for medical students and physicians, but about and for all of us – you and me – doctor and patient. It’s about the obligation to ourselves and others – to practice the CURE.
To heal, like life itself, is a journey. Take the journey with me and learn how to be CURE’D. We’ll take creative approaches to feeling less “dis-ease” with illness and suffering. You’ll learn how to advocate for yourself and for those you care about, and about how resilience can make you stronger, happier, and more likely to get and stay feeling healthy.